The Fifth Sunday of Easter
28 April 2013
O Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know thy Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leadeth to eternal life; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
Revelation 19:1, 4-9
The last time our attention was drawn to this morning’s Gospel text from John was on Maundy Thursday. It was not our Gospel lection for that Mass; that was the passage immediately preceding today’s reading in which we hear of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. No, that night we heard just the headline, “Mandatum novum do vobis: ut diligatis invicem, sicut dilexi vos, dicit Dominus:” “a new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another as I have loved you, saith the Lord.” We heard it chanted by the choir to the traditional plainsong melody as Mother Barnes began washing the feet of members of the parish. This snippet is the first antiphon at the foot washing, the first of a series of chants sung during that action, and it draws attention to Jesus’ own loving action for his disciples when at the last supper he washed their feet and shared with them that meal in which he promised always to be with them. I need not probably remind you (but I can’t help myself) that it is from “mandatum novum” that we get “Maundy” and our peculiarly Old English name for Thursday in Holy Week, Feria quarta in cena domini, as it was known everywhere else in Christendom.
Our focus that day on the Maundy, the mandatum, the command Jesus gave his disciples is a particular lens through which we view the great three days, the Triduum, of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. It is a perspective that tells us that all that Jesus suffered is framed by his love for us and his desire—no his mandate—that given all that he has done for us, all that God has and will do for us, that we must practice love. In fact, it demands that we practice love in the face of hate, in the face of indifference, in the face of true and real suffering. At the Last Supper the command is given not necessarily with the Resurrection in mind, but with the Cross in plain sight ahead of them.
Today we see this passage through another lens. This time we do see it through the lens of the Resurrection, we see it in the context of Eastertide and all that it entails. We see it from the other side of the Cross and we see that although it was given in a deep and dark hour, we now know that Jesus’ words to us, his command to us is backed-up, empowered, really, by the force of the Resurrection and the power of life, the life of Christ, to put death in its place. We know in this moment what it means when Jesus says, “now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified.” At the last Supper it must have looked like a strange kind of glory. Jesus hanging from the Cross must have looked like a strange kind of glory. But after the resurrection we know that the love Jesus showed forth from the Cross, the love John describes when Jesus asked his best friend to look after his mother and then asked his mother to look after his best friend, this love is true love in all its glory. It is true love that is vindicated by the Resurrection to new life on Easter Day.
From this side of the Cross, knowing that Jesus was only with the disciples again for a short season before his Ascension, knowing what he meant when he said “yet a little while I am with you .... [and] where I am going you cannot come,” we understand that the command to love can and must have an impact on the world going forward. Jesus tells them plainly that by loving one another, “by this all people will know that you are my disciples.” Jesus tells them plainly that their love for each other, and their love for others, I believe, will show the love of God into the world. People will see in their love God’s love, the love of the Christ for his people. God’s love will come to the people through the love they show one another, the love they show their neighbours.
This is something that Jesus’ first Jewish followers would have understood, knowing Scripture as well as they did. They would have remembered the words from Leviticus we also heard this morning. They would have remembered God’s order to deal fairly and justly with others and would have recalled the words that summed up those commandments:
You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason with your neighbour, lest you bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.
Leviticus makes it clear that all these various things we are to do in relation to others—“not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another ... not oppress your neighbour or rob him ... not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind,... do no injustice in judgment..., not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbour”—all these things amount to loving “your neighbour as yourself.” Each of these actions amounts to loving God and showing God’s love into the world.
The “new commandment” to love one another is not really new at all, and they knew it. It is, rather, a reorienting of the disciple’s priorities. It is a resetting of the standard and a reminder that in the world after the Resurrection Christians shall be known for how they treat others, how they love one another, and that what people see will reflect God’s love for us and his desire that we all share in his loving purpose. Wherever we witness love exchanged, love freely given, even in the face of hate and indifference, we know that God is present with us and we know that those we see, they are the ones about whom John, the author of Revelation, says, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
Blessed, indeed, are you, my brothers and sisters, who are called today to the marriage supper of the lamb, for I have seen in this community, I have seen in you, the new commandment in action, over and over again. Let us make our Holy Communion and then go out into the world and let all men know whose disciples we are.
Andrew C. Blume✠
New York City
[Christina Rosetti,] 27 April 2013
© 2013 Andrew Charles Blume